Lojong #10: Begin the sequence of sending & taking with yourself

“Whenever anything happens, the first thing to do is take the pain on yourself.” (Trungpa) — Give up the good feelings so someone else can benefit. This is connected with developing the Paramita of Discipline. Open your territory completely, let go of everything.

Kongtrul says: Take on all the suffering that will come to you in the future, then you’ll be able to take on others’ suffering.

Radical stuff. Like the Tibetan mountain paths, it’s not for the faint-hearted.

But it’s probably the best program ever devised for helping yourself learn to be more compassionate to others…

Lojang #8 Three objects, three poisons, three seeds of virtue

This one seems obscure at first, but is really very accessible… and very powerful. It can change your life, all by itself.

The three objects are friends, enemies and neutrals…

The three poisons are craving, aggression, ignorance (which are  sometimes rendered as: passion/anger/delusion or attachment/aversion/indifference).

The three virtues are the wisdom sides of the three poisons – i.e., ‘the flip side’! What this means is, the wisdom you gain from observing carefully when you experience the three poisons. On one level, this is the post-meditation/everyday life version of tonglen, and can be practiced fully only when tonglen is understood. Basically this amounts to uncoupling from the objects of your emotions and attachments and realizing that without the objects, the passions have no power…

But the simple, straightforward level, the accessible version of this is to realize that whatever bad experiences you are in at this moment can teach you what suffering is for others and thus help you develop understanding, insight or wisdom (panna) — and thus compassion for others.

A simple personal example: I was driving to work a few days ago in a very stressed state due to a combination of circumstances too complicated and mundane to go into, but suffice it to say I was so stressed that I began to wonder if I was safe to drive. As I was driving along, I realized that many of the people around me on the road must be experiencing the same kinds of stress, and that indeed that stress could be the source of many of the frightening and annoying things that other drivers often do  – things that typically get an angry or at least contemptuous response from me. Seeing how this stress could be affecting others, I realized I was able to tap into a source of compassion for them which is helping me be less annoyed and much more equanimous in my daily drive.

Lojong #7 Sending and taking should be practiced alternately…

… These two should ride the breath.


This is a simple description of the very advanced practice of tonglen, which is the main practice in developing relative Bodhichitta, awakened heart. Extensive practice in basic meditation, beginning with awareness of breath (anapana in Pali, shamatha in Tibetan), is essential before attempting this practice. A solid background in Metta practice, the practice of sending loving-kindness and compassion out to all the world, is also very helpful, as tonglen can be very dark and overwhelming otherwise.

The practice involves taking into oneself with each inhalation all the bad in one’s surroundings (eventually the world) and sending out with each exhalation all the good one has, actually transforming the bad in the environment into good and giving it away.

This turns the natural tendency to seek pleasure and avoid pain on its head, and generally seems absurd to the conventional consciousness. After some years of meditation and observation of the practice, one will usually come to an understanding of its wisdom and transformational power.

Pema Chodron writes about tonglen in her wonderful book The Wisdom of No Escape.

I’m not suggesting that anyone try this, but if you do please read what Trungpa and Pema have to say about it. I’m introducing it here because this is a foundational notion in much of the lojong practice: the idea that one can take negative energies or situations and transform them, simply by one’s willingness to do so – not thru any kind of occult powers or anything. It’s a powerful idea.

Lojong #2 Regard all dharmas as dreams


In the interest of developing compassion and openness, it’s perhaps best to regard whatever happens as only phantom… “Nothing ever happens. But because nothing happens, everything happens.” I.E. don’t take this so-called ‘reality’ too seriously. Whatever ‘reality’ is, all we can ever know of it is what our mind-system perceives and conceives. Which keeps everything light and open….

Bodhichitta means enlightened heart or mind… ultimate Bodhichitta slogans are those that are concerned with the absolute nature of reality, as opposed to relative, which is the everyday practical stuff.

Before you get too stuck on this one, be sure you go on to #3 and #4…

Lojong 1: First, train in the preliminaries

The Preliminaries means shamatha meditation – basic, formless meditation.

This also includes the idea of the Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind (to the path of Enlightenment): 1. the precious opportunity of a human life; 2. impermanence and death; 3. the reality of karma (cause & effect); and 4. the suffering that is samsara – normal life.

Kongtrul, one of the early commentators on these slogans, says: “Take an attitude of devotion to the path of loving-kindness.”

On Training the Mind

After something of a gap, I’m back to posting Practice Notes on this site, and hope to continue the Meditation Guide as well, as time allows.

This gap has roots in a complex matrix of causes and conditions, prime among them my depression and confusion following the death of my mother… of which I may write more later. It all has created something of a gap in my meditation practice as well, and so, casting about for some way to get back on the path, I have been digging into my past practices. I’ve begun to do yoga regularly again, and have been relying heavily on anapana – following the breath – and some chanting of the Gate Gate mantra – as well as some minor rituals – reciting daily vows at my morning altar.

These have all been helpful, and I’m feeling closer to resuming a solid daily meditation practice.

Another thing from my past practice that has been very helpful is lojong practice, which comes from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, most famously in this country from Chogyam Trungpa and his disciple Pema Chodron. Though Trungpa was a controversial character, his ‘crazy wisdom’ has been a powerful stream in US Buddhism, and his book Training the Mind and Cultivating Loving-Kindness has been a powerful influence on my practice.

Although my formal practice was Zen, I have also practiced tonglen, or sending and taking, and used the lojong slogans in my mindfullness practice.

Tonglen is a very powerful practice that should be undertaken only with a solid foundation of shamatha – formless meditation – and preferably with a teacher’s guidance. Of course, I always disregarded that advice and just jumped in where angels fear to tread, but I realize now I really do need a teacher for truly developing the practice. And I certainly would not presume to guide anyone into this practice via this blog.

Even without a teacher, however, the lojong practice – the slogans themselves – seems to be very helpful in dealing with the difficult process of putting the teachings into practice and dealing with the vagaries of everyday life in the Twenty-first Century. The slogans are very down-to-earth practical advice, “a grandmotherly finger-point” on how to apply the Buddha’s teachings to your life situations. Even without understanding them properly and deeply, they are helpful.

I have read Trungpa’s book several times straight through and been through it taking one slogan a day quite a few more times. In addition, I created cards for myself summarizing his commentary about each of the slogans and have been through those more times than I’ve counted. I posted a few of them on the original Shunyata’s Apprentice blog several years ago.

The point of going through the fifty-nine slogans is that one becomes very familiar with them, so appropriate ones tend to come to mind in various life situations, prompting reflection and a meditative awareness that can help turn potential disasters into highly enlightening experiences. “Poison as medicine” is how Pema Chodron describes this process.

In my recent attempt to get my practice back on track, the slogans have been immensely helpful, and I have been going through them with renewed intensity, finding new ways to keep them active in my mind, including making a small booklet from my cards that’s convenient to carry around and refer to. I also have begun posting computer-generated versions on my Instagram feed… with links to these further explications included.

So welcome, if that’s what brought you here! Hope you find these explanations enlightening! Even better if it motivates you to read Trungpa’s little book yourself! Here are a few independent bookseller sources.